The measure was taken to control protesters who have been demonstrating all this week against the increased Metro fare. Demonstrations and vandalism in the capital of Santiago have escalated Friday, as have national police repression against the mainly student protesters. The president said the state of emergency will be in place for these areas for the next 15 days, with a possible extension.
"We are taking this measure to assure public order and public safety in Santiago and to protect public and private properties," announced Piñera in a brief press conference on Friday night in which he declared the state of emergency.
The president claimed that protesters "want to destroy the Metro and don't respect their fellow country people. In a rule of law there is no room for vandalism that we've seen in the past few days."
At the end of his statement Piñera said that his government "will call for dialogue with organizations to discuss the price of the Metro, which we understand affects many people." State of emergencies allow the executive to militarize the designated areas and limit the public right to assembly and protest.
Just prior to the president's communique, heavy fires consumed the building of the electricity distribution company, Enel, located in the center of Santiago. The Plaza Italia, a typical protest center, was closed to traffic with barricades of metal fences with some bonfires burning.
As protesters declared a 'fare dodging' protesting, refusing to pay the new Metro rate that increased to about US$1.20, the city suspended all Metro services until at least Monday.
In a Friday statement, the influential Valparaiso Union declared a general strike.
"With the nerve of continuing to finance those who profit from public transport, the government ... is resorting to police repression worthy of dark times in the history of our country," said the union regarding police repression of protesters.
"Santiago is not all of Chile and today the regions have to deal with the rise in electricity, fuel, shortages and poor water quality. We want the political class to understand that we are all Chile and that the solution to these injustices requires the complete transformation of the economic model," the union stated.
The members rejected the "endless social, economic and labor injustices that afflict hardworking people" and because of that they were announcing the general strike. The precise dates of the strike were not clear.